What Causes Foot Peeling & How to Find Relief
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While the feet are used to wear and tear, peeling feet can signify an underlying condition that may require medical attention. Skin peeling on the bottom of the feet can most commonly be caused by a fungal infection called athlete's foot, sunburn, dermatitis, or dry skin. Read below for more information on causes and how to treat peeling feet.
Symptoms of peeling feet
Foot peeling is an unsightly ailment that may also be problematic from a health perspective. Our skin is subjected to irritation day-in and day-out from a variety of sources and serves as protective barrier for the body. It keeps water in and helps limit the effects of the elements (wind, sun, rain, etc.) and pathogens on the internal components of the body. Our feet specifically are often subjected to extreme heat, moisture, or even dryness.
Common accompanying symptoms of foot peeling
If you're experiencing foot peel, you may also experience:
- Burning or stinging
- Shedding of skin from the feet
- Dry skin
What causes peeling skin on feet?
The following details may help you better understand your symptoms and if and when you need to see a physician.
Your feet may peel due to lifestyle habits or certain exposures.
- Trauma: Irritation of the skin, particularly if repeated, can lead to foot peeling symptoms. Irritants include everything from ill-fitting footwear, physical activity, chemicals in soaps, detergents, and acids.
- Environment: Hot, cold, wind, sun, humidity, and dryness can all cause the skin to react by peeling. A sunburn, for example, can lead to excessive dryness that, in turn, results in foot peeling symptoms.
- Bodily function: The body naturally sheds skin across the body. Unlike many parts of the body, the feet are prone to build-up, which results in skin peeling.
- Fungal: Fungi enjoy the warm, moist areas provided by the body. Athlete's foot is an example of a fungal condition that results in foot peeling.
- Allergies: Certain substances can cause a skin reaction on the foot.
Bacterial infections can lead to foot peeling.
Systemic disease causes
Your feet may peel due to underlying conditions such as the following.
- Hereditary: Some inherited conditions cause foot peeling as a primary symptom. These conditions are likely underdiagnosed because the symptoms are not severe and mimic other skin conditions.
- Cancer: Whether a byproduct of cancer itself or brought on by the methods used for treatment, foot peeling has been linked to the disease.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Athlete's foot (tinea pedis)
Athlete's foot is a common fungal infection of the feet and/or toes. Warm, moist environments and community showering are common causes of this type of infection.
Top Symptoms: foot redness, foot/toe itch, foot skin changes, spontaneous foot pain, peeling between the toes
Symptoms that always occur with athlete's foot (tinea pedis): foot redness
Symptoms that never occur with athlete's foot (tinea pedis): toe injury
Sunburn is an acute condition related to excess exposure to ultraviolet rays. It usually resolves over the course of a few days and acute symptoms can be managed; however, it can have morbid long-term effects if the sunburn is particularly severe. Symptoms include reddening of the skin (erythema), fluid-filled bump..
Normal occurrence of dry skin
Dry skin can be caused by overheating during the winter or air conditioning in the summer, the loss of sweat and oil glands as you get older, and overuse of things like soap, antiperspirant, perfumes, and hot baths.
Top Symptoms: dry skin
Symptoms that always occur with normal occurrence of dry skin: dry skin
Allergic contact dermatitis of the foot
Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.
Top Symptoms: foot redness, foot/toe itch, scabbed area of the foot
Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the foot: foot redness
Non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation)
Nonspecific dermatitis, or contact dermatitis, simply means inflammation of the skin from many different causes.
Most nonspecific dermatitis is caused by skin contact with a substance that provokes a reaction, which could be anything from plants to soap to jewelry to fabrics. Some may be due to an autoimmune condition, where the body's immune system attacks itself.
Risk factors include a family or personal history of allergies, asthma, or other condition which weakens the immune system; or constant contact with metals, plant life, or chemicals.
Symptoms commonly include red, swollen skin rash with itching, blistering, or oozing, which may become painful and infected.
Dermatitis itself is not contagious but can interfere with quality of life. A medical provider can help with managing the symptoms.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes skin biopsy and patch testing.
Treatment involves using protective measures if the substances cannot be avoided; making nutritional improvements to strengthen the immune system; using corticosteroid or other creams; and phototherapy.
Top Symptoms: red rash, itchy rash, painful rash
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific dermatitis (skin inflammation): red rash
Irritant contact dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.
Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.
Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.
Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.
A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.
Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.
Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that produces an itchy rash. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens. The most susceptible are those with a family hi..
When and how to treat peeling skin on the bottom of feet
You can begin treating your foot peeling at home with the following remedies.
- Warm water and a scrub: Soak the affected area in warm water for up to 20 minutes to soften skin so you can remove it with a gentle scrub.
- Moisturizer: Repeated applications of lotion to the affected areas can help limit foot peeling symptoms.
- Hygiene: Keep your feet clean and dry to help prevent fungus. Similarly, wear clean socks, well-ventilated shoes, and protect the feet in public areas such as pools to help maintain overall foot health.
- Over-the-counter medications: Several powders or creams exist to treat athlete's foot and reduce peeling.
When to see a doctor
Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following.
- Severe pain associated with peeling
- Peeling that does not subside for two to four weeks
- Concerns regarding the cause of the peeling
Oral antifungal medications or antibiotics may be necessary for more significant causes of foot peeling. Prescribed foot creams are also available.
Katie is a senior marketing manager and digital consultant. She specializes in online marketing and content marketing. She has worked in the Search Advertising for 11 years. She received her BA from Bentley University.
- Cunliffe T. Peeling Skin Conditions. Primary Care Dermatology Society. Updated July 6, 2016. PCDS Link
- Athlete's Foot. NHS. Updated September 2, 2018. NHS Link
- Acral Peeling Skin Syndrome. NIH: Genetics Home Reference. Published November 27, 2018. GHR Link
- Why is the Skin Between My Toes Peeling? Foot.com. Published March 12, 2018. Foot.com Link
- Cracked or Dry Skin. Seattle Childrens Hospital. Updated October 29, 2018. Seattle Childrens Hospital Link